Hundreds of thousands of pounds has been spent by the House of Commons on non-disclosure and settlement agreements with former employees over the last three years, official figures reveal.
House authorities have spent more than £808,000 on 15 settlement agreements with departing staff since January 2017 – seven of which, totalling £367,016, contained a confidentiality provision.
A Commons spokesman said confidentiality clauses had not been used in settlement agreements since 2018.
The House of Lords spent £18,421 on four NDAs, all of which contained confidentiality clauses, over the same period.
The use of NDAs
The figures, revealed in response to freedom of information requests by the PA news agency, have led to calls for Parliament to “outlaw” the use of NDAs in cases of harassment or discrimination.
Sometimes referred to as “gagging clauses”, NDAs are legal contracts used to prevent people from discussing confidential information and to keep trade secrets private – but they can also be used to keep allegations of wrongdoing out of the press.
Scrutiny of such agreements in Parliament heightened after Angus Sinclair, a former private secretary to John Bercow, said he was given “compulsory early retirement”, with an £86,250 pay-off dependent on him signing an NDA barring him from making complaints about his treatment in the House.
Labour MP Jess Phillips told PA the level of payout unearthed in the figures is “very worrying”.
“Parliamentary inquiries and recent high-profile cases such as Harvey Weinstein have shown how toxic these agreements can be and how they hide the need for institutional change,” she said.
“Parliament should outlaw the use of NDAs going forward in any case of harassment or discrimination and show the leadership needed to end the culture of power and money silencing people.”
She welcomed the Commons not using confidentiality clauses since 2018.
Tory former women and equalities minister Maria Miller said: “Allegations of bullying and harassment affecting House of Commons staff have seriously brought into question its management culture.
“With new leadership of the House of Commons management now in place, it is important that secrecy and cover-up has no place in the running of our Parliament.
“With almost 3,000 people employed directly by the House of Commons, quite separate from MPs’ own office staff, this FOI request demonstrates the need for transparency and accountability in the way such payments are being used.”
A Commons spokesman said: “The House of Commons has not used confidentiality clauses as part of settlement agreements (commonly referred to as NDAs) since 2018.
“In line with many other organisations, the House of Commons – which employs over 2,500 members of staff – has and continues to follow best practice guidance on employment matters as specified by Acas and the Cabinet Office.”
PA revealed in 2018 that the Commons had spent more than £2.4 million on NDAs with employees between 2013 and 2017.